Joe Davidson

Sacramento-area high school basketball teams prepare for league, postseason

McClatchy’s Jordan Cruz (33), left, and Oak Ridge’s Hailey McCoy chase after a loose ball during the Division 1 NorCal Championship game on March 21, 2015, at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento. Might there be a rematch.
McClatchy’s Jordan Cruz (33), left, and Oak Ridge’s Hailey McCoy chase after a loose ball during the Division 1 NorCal Championship game on March 21, 2015, at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento. Might there be a rematch.

With the completion of nonconference games and holiday-season tournaments held near and far, regional high school boys and girls basketball teams will now focus on the chase for league championships. And then the real fun. The playoffs start in February and will consume much of March, featuring championship rounds at Sleep Train Arena for the Sac-Joaquin Section, Northern California and CIF State finals.

Here’s a peek at the top teams, themes and trends that will shape the remainder of the season:

Open debate – The Open Division addition to the CIF NorCal and state playoffs was designed to isolate heavyweight programs, mostly private schools, in their own bracket and allow other programs a fighting chance. Still, area teams put into that field by the state’s 10 section commissioners, based on sustained success and strength of schedule, include public schools Sheldon and Folsom, and private school Capital Christian.

Folsom beat Sheldon by a point to win the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I championship last March and played as an Open team in regionals. Those teams could meet in the section final again, and regardless of outcome, both could advance to the Open regionals. And should Bee top-ranked Sacramento win the D-II section championship and Capital Christian win in D-III, section commissioners will have a lot to consider. And if Woodcreek were to win the D-I title? More possibilities. It’s a sign of how strong and reputable area basketball has become. An area team is capable of winning the NorCal Open title this season.

Can McClatchy repeat? – The Lions won the CIF State D-I girls title last season on the strength of teamwork and inside power. McClatchy’s inside game this season was thinned in August when Bee Player of the Year Gigi Garcia suffered a season-ending knee injury. Still, McClatchy, led in part by shooter Jordan Cruz, remains top ranked by The Bee. Winning the Metropolitan Conference is the immediate goal, with longtime rival Sacramento, led by four-year starting guard Aliceah Hernandez, lurking and eager for payback.

Girls got game – The top-ranked team in the country is St. Mary’s of Stockton, which continues to cast a formidable shadow across the section with endless debates of an even playing field for private and public schools. But the Sacramento area’s top-ranked teams are public schools, offering proof old school still works.

Besides McClatchy, area powers include No. 2 Antelope, led by sisters Nadia and Nia Johnson and fellow guard Angelica Baylon, and No. 3 Oak Ridge with its big three of Briana Dulgar, Kassidy DeLapp and Hailey McCoy. McClatchy beat Oak Ridge for the D-I section title last season.

Experience counts – It’s common for girls teams to have four-year varsity starters. Girls tend to mature quicker, and they are often easier to coach than boys, coaches say.

For the boys? The four-year varsity plan has become a trend. Sacramento is fueled by four-year vets Christian Terrell, a guard, and Solomon Young, a forward. Folsom is paced by guard Jordan Ford, whose team improved as he did. Sheldon’s floor leader is guard Devin Greene, who is flanked by fellow four-year teammate in forward Matt Manning. Rio Americano has had guard Matt Lyon in its lineup for four years, and he grows as a leader and in desire.

Super sophs – The next wave of regional stars already making an impact include two long and lanky forwards with guard skills. Jordan Brown of Woodcreek, a 6-foot-10 national recruit, is averaging 26.6 points and 13.5 rebounds. Elias King, 6-7, of Christian Brothers is averaging 29.9 and 12.1 and soaring up the recruiting radar.

Big on skills – Area girls teams include many skilled 6-foot frontcourt players, including: Danielle Craft of Ponderosa, Lauren Craig of St. Francis, twins Rachael and Rebeccah DiRegolo of Bella Vista, McKenzie Forbes of Folsom and Baylee Vanderdoes of Placer.

Unsung but noticed – Seven area girls guards who are fast with the dribble and quick on defense include Daeja Black of Granite Bay, Irene Colaivalu of Rosemont, Kaliya Griffin of Inderkum, Brandy Huffhines of Rio Linda, Chanel Stuart of Franklin and twins Kelsey and Kristi Wong of McClatchy.

More the merrier – In an era of sports specialization, there are numerous multisport achievers. Ryan Kreidler of Davis, headed to UCLA where he’ll play shortstop on scholarship, is averaging 18.6 points. Vernon Robertson of Foothill played quarterback in the fall and now directs the basketball team, averaging 21.1 points. And Isaiah Tenette, a prolific quarterback for Highlands, is averaging 20 points a game for the Scots.